Re-evaluation Counseling and the Settlers*

(*People living in Jewish settlements on the West Bank)

We recently had another meeting with the settlers in the Mount Hebron area.

These meetings have been held for the past two years under Sara Kallai's courageous and excellent leadership. This last meeting was especially successful. We came to a turning point that we and the settlers had been awaiting for some time. It was the result of a long, slow, almost invisible process.

You may remember Sara's first report about the meetings (Present Time, April, 1994) in which she said, "Many settlers expressed a sincere and strong desire to listen to us!" Since then we have discussed long and hard whether it would be right to be listened to by people who had not learned and internalized listening as we practice it in Co-Counseling. Our offers to teach them RC in a regular fundamentals class were rejected (except for a group of eight women who learned RC with Avi Butavia in Kiryat Arba for about a year). On the one hand, there was a refusal, at times adamant: "We don't need it; the Torah contains everything," or, "We don't want to devote time for that," or, "This is too intimate to do with strangers." On the other hand, there were many requests to continue the meetings, and enthusiasm and satisfaction were always expressed at the end of each meeting.

We built up a tradition of meeting once every six weeks or soñsometimes in Jerusalem, sometimes in Kiryat Arba. A group of ten to twelve settlers and a similar number of Co-Counselors came regularly to the meetings. The topics were determined by the relevant issues of the day, such as, "What society do we wish to create for future generations?" or "What kind of relationships have we or our families had with non-Jews in Israel and abroad?" The meetings were structured and run as regular RC meetingsñopening and closing circles, mini-sessions, basic theory, panels, and work in support groups and topic groups. Points agreed upon in the topic groups were reported to the large group. There were also occasional demonstrations with settlers in which there was light discharge and re-evaluation. And still the group "refused" to "learn Co-Counseling"!

Cherie Brown helped us tremendously during her stay here for the Jewish Liberation Workshop in June, 1995. Thanks to the support I received from her and from Sara, Avi, and many others, I continued to organize the meetings. Some of the meetings were good, some were better, but they did take place. Between meetings we spoke with the settlers on the phone and, with some of them, we initiated face-to-face sessions.

Over the course of two years of meetings, most of the settlers learned to listen respectfully even to things they didn't agree with, even to things that were foreign and strange to them such as our discharge. All of this took place without a regular fundamentals class!

About ten days after the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, a meeting took place which was impressive in the number of participants (over forty) and because of what happened during it. For the first time, there was heavy discharge as Sara worked with two Co-Counselors.

Since then we've met twice, both times in Kiryat Arba. With the settlers' extreme isolation as a group "opposed" to and considered a "stumbling block" to peace, our mere coming to them on roads which are not danger-free, perfectly contradicts their feelings of alienation and abandonment.

The last meeting, as I mentioned above, was especially successful. It was jointly planned by Sara and Shalom, the leader of the settler's group, a dear man, very impressive, sensitive, sincere, a profound and independent thinker. Shalom proposed that the topic be "Between Despair and Hope." After the opening circle he began the evening by taking some time in class as Sara had done in the previous meeting. As usual, the evening was led by Sara with wisdom and deep sensitivity.

I personally had two moving experiences that evening. The first was in my mini-session with Shalom (this was not our first mini-session together). I noticed that this time I had a counselor in every way: attentive and sensitive, looking into my eyes with interest, really able to be with me. I looked at him and discharged, I talked and discharged again, while he said in his deep voice, "I know how hard it is for you, I understand you," and I continued to discharge more of my personal and collective despair.

My second highlight was the panel. The topic was the state of affairs from the viewpoints of despair and hope. I had not prepared for the panel because the original plan was for a panel of three settlers (two women and a man). However, the settlers would not hear of a one-sided panel; in their words they didn't want it to be "boring." Sara asked me to join, and I agreed. I had five minutes to speak. I decided to risk it and said everything I had on my mind and in my heart: how I saw the state of affairs, what were my sources of hope and despair, what was important to me and what was not, why I had chosen to support the Oslo agreements, etc. When I said, "I chose to support . . ." a woman (for whom this was only her second meeting) interrupted me and said in an angry tone, "You didn't choose, the Government decided!" To my surprise, our friends from the settlers' group shushed her with, "Shhhhh, don't interrupt, just listen!"

In the closing circle, both our friends the settlers and the Jerusalemites noted, "This time we touched the raw flesh," "This time, the barriers dropped." The closeness and feelings of a common destiny were tangible. Our hearts were one even though we were of different minds. Our brotherhood and sisterhood, like in a family, overcame the differences of opinion and lifestyle.

We can be proud of the work done by the participants, the organizers, and in particular, by Sara. Sara leads the meetings with flexibility, courage, an easy-goingness, and with her special humor.

The project was funded by Area money. We see this as a unique outreach project, to religious Jews of diverse backgrounds and a fairly unified ideological stand, a population still under-represented in the Israeli Co-Counseling Community.

The Jewish-Israeli Co-Counselors committed to the project are of varied backgrounds: we are women, men, single, married, heterosexual, homosexual, young people, older people (the ages range from twenty-five to sixty-five), Mizrachi, Ashkenazi, "sabras" (those who were born in Israel), immigrants, secular, religious, from both left and right on the political spectrum, Hebrew-speakers, and English speakers (Co-Counselors from the United States who are in Israel for a year or two).

May this group of thirty men and women be groundbreakers who will pave the way to a great future for a people torn asunder and divided into different sects, ethnic groups, parties, and religious views!

Esti Cohen
Jerusalem, Israel


Last modified: 2022-12-25 10:17:04+00